Academic journal article Shofar

The Art and Artists of the Fifth Zionist Congress. Heralds of a New Age, by Gilya Gerda Schmidt

Academic journal article Shofar

The Art and Artists of the Fifth Zionist Congress. Heralds of a New Age, by Gilya Gerda Schmidt

Article excerpt

Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2003. 269 pp., 41 illustrations. $49.95.

This book deals with a rather narrowly defined subject -- the exhibition of Jewish art held in conjunction with the fifth Zionist Congress in 1901. This was, to be sure, a significant event, an expression of the importance that some Zionists assigned to the creation of a new Jewish national culture. Prominent among these Zionists was, of course, Martin Buber, on whom the author is an expert, having written a monograph on his early activities and having translated some of his early writings into English. At the Congress Buber made a well-known speech on Jewish art and referred to the exhibition as a sign that a new Jewish national art was in the making, although its final triumph could take place only when the Jews would succeed in establishing a national homeland in Palestine.

The works of eleven artists were displayed at the Congress, and Schmidt's book is chiefly devoted to biographies of these artists and discussions of their artistic achievements. There are separate chapters on the careers of Jozef Israëls, Hermann Struck, Lesser Ury; and Ephraim Moses Lilien. Eduard Bendemann and Maurycy Gottlieb are lumped together in a chapter entitled "Forerunners," while Solomon Kischinewski, Oskar Marmorek, Alfred Nossig, Jehudo Epstein, and Alfred Lakos are dealt with in a section on "the other artists in the exhibition." The author has done a commendable job of collecting material on all these artists, ranging from encyclopedia articles to contemporary critical comments. She registers her regret that the subject of "Jewish art" has been somewhat neglected by Jewish scholars, emphatically denies the infamous accusation that the Jews are a people with no art, makes no secret of her ardent support of the Zionist movement, and lavishes praise upon the artists whom she has chosen to discuss. All, or almost all, are seen as both good Jews and fine craftsmen. She quotes with approval an appraisal of Maurycy Gottlieb that classifies him as a "national artist" (p. 43), a judgment which I regard as ill-founded. Israëls was "a proud Dutchman and a proud Jew," who refused to paint on the Sabbath (p. 67). Struck is especially favored, since he was that rara avis -- a strictly orthodox Jewish artist of whom "it is said that [he] worked on art the way he studied the Talmud -- with great care and precision" (p. …

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